Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Rail Frustration

Clive Summerfield @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Over at Bloggerheads, Manic rails (if you'll pardon the pun) at the gross ineptitude of SWT and the other train operating companies. And he's perfectly right to do so. While he is organising a campaign, I'd suggest he widen his target to include the leasing companies which actually own all the shabby and poorly maintained rolling stock. Porterbrook for example (never trust a business who's site uses frames) is owned by Abbey (formerly Abbey National), Angel Trains is owned by RBoS and HSBC Rail is owned (unsurprisingly) by HSBC.

So all the operating companies lease their rolling stock from three banks basically who operate as an oligopoly. The punter pays his fare to the operating company, who also take a cut of the tax payers money as a subsidy. The operating company then pays the leasing company. And this is where the problem lies. For starters the leasing companies operate outside the control of the Department of Transport, so there is reduced accountability there. Throw into the mix the differential between the price paid by the leasing company to purchase the rolling stock, and the annual leasing charges they levy on the train operating company. Part of this is due to the fact that the rolling stock has a service life of 30 years, but the TOCs are given lease period of 6 to 8 years. Add in the high specificity of the rolling stock, and the lack of market competition, and it is no wonder that the system is a mess.

A national rail network is simply too large and critical to be privatised, especially in the manner implemented by John Major's government.

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